Ages: 3 and up
Math Ideas: Symmetry, spatial reasoning
Questions to Ask:
What shapes could you draw using mirror drawing? What shapes are impossible
Which letters flip in the mirror, and which are the same?
What happens when your hand crosses the line of symmetry?
What do you want to draw next?
I'm particularly proud of this week's activity: My son invented it himself!
A couple of years back, my son found some chalk at a birthday party. He took a piece of chalk in each hand and started drawing on the driveway in symmetrical lines and curves; he almost looked like a conductor of a symphony, swinging his hands back and forth in time with each other.
The math teacher in me immediately saw an opportunity to build an activity out of this artistic idea: Mirror drawing!
Now, of course, my son isn't the first kid to happen upon this idea. But that's just a testament to its power as a fun way to get kids thinking about symmetry.
Since that time, I've come up with several variations on mirror drawing and tried them with different age groups. No matter the age, kids seem to love mirror drawing. Frankly, I think it's pretty fun myself! Below are some of my favorite activities to do with mirror drawing.
How to Play
The only rule in mirror drawing is that they hands must draw mirror images so that your drawing has a line of symmetry down the center.
At first, I think it's good just to get your child to freely draw whatever they want. They will focus more on the movement of their hands than on the image they are drawing, which is important later on as the challenges get more interesting.
Then I like to recommend a set of shapes for my kids to draw using the mirror drawing technique. Not all of these shapes are as easy as they look! Your child's first circle may come out looking more like a lemon or a football.
Encourage them to try again until they are satisfied with their work. You may find it helpful to draw a line of symmetry on their paper (as shown) so they have a reference point.
You may have noticed some similarities between this activity and my Fold-and-Cut Challenge. They are both structured around the idea of symmetry, so that might make a great follow-up to some mirror drawing!
Once your kid has mastered some mirror drawing of objects, you can advance to writing!
This is one of those fun moments where the learning curve is tougher for older kids than younger kids, since older kids have a stronger muscle memory when writing.
Grab two markers and write your name using your writing hand. In the other hand, mirror the moves. You should end up with two versions of your name, one written backwards.
Now comes the fun part. Again, holding two markers, write your name. This time, however, use your bad hand. Then mirror the letters with your writing hand.
If you're near a pad of paper, this is worth trying out yourself. Harder than it seems, right?
The final challenge involves an actual mirror. Place a paper next to a mirror and draw, watching how the image appears flipped in the mirror. Can you draw a heart by completing one half and letting the mirror complete the other half? Can you write your name so that it appears correctly in the mirror?
There's so much you can do with a simple pencil, paper, and mirror.
Where's the Math?
Mirror drawing is all about symmetry, of course. Symmetry is a concept that we want kids to be able to identify in a figure, but the best way to learn about symmetry is with your body in motion.
When you make the connection between a mental image of what you want to draw (a heart or a person) and the physical actions required to do so (mirroring your hand motions) you create a stronger association than if you focuses solely on physical motion or visualization.
These sorts of activities may not seem mathematical in the same way as an "Add to 10" worksheet from school, but they help your child build a spatial sense that will be extremely helpful in their development as geometric thinkers.
There are all sorts of other benefits, as well. Young kids develop their fine motor control with both hands, while all children can find opportunities to develop new and creative ideas as they play with the marker and the mirror.
This is the sort of math that you can hang on the fridge or in your office. As with the best mathematical art, the work is beautiful because of its mathematical structure.
Questions to Ask
While your kids are trying to draw triangles, circles, and hearts with their mirrored hands, the best questions are the ones that deepen their visualization skills. Ask your child "What shapes can you draw by mirror drawing?"They may come up with some interesting ones that surprise you!
Just as valuable is the opposite question: "Which shapes are impossible to draw using mirror symmetry?" This question gets your child visualizing objects with no lines of symmetry. Maybe they mention a shape like a crescent as an impossible shape. Then you could show them that a crescent is possible, if you orient the paper to make it a smiley face!
Another variation on these questions: "Which letters are the same in the mirror, and which letters flip?" gets your kids thinking about vertical symmetry.
If your child really likes the drawn line of symmetry on the paper, you could ask them "What happens if your hand crosses the line of symmetry?" This simple question could open up an entire avenue of new artistic ideas!
My favorite question for this type of artistic exploration is, of course "What do you want to draw next?" Fostering your child's sense of exploratory creativity will ensure that they keep playing around with notions of mirroring and symmetry long after your initial art session.